Here’s How to Help Manage Local Climate Change Risks

This is a guest post by Professor Lawrence Susskind, Director of the MIT Science Impact Collaborative, the Director of the MIT-UTM Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program (MSCP) and co-director of the Water Diplomacy Workshop.

Climate Change RisksWe’ve spent far too much time thinking about the global causes of climate change, and not nearly enough worrying about the local impacts that climate change is already having on coastal communities. The distinction is important. Most of the people pushing for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are environmentalists or experts worried about future generations. But there is a very immediate constituency – the people being hit with higher costs for insurance, water and electricity, and those facing substantial property losses or a drop in business income today because of increased flooding and water shortages.

People who live in a coastal community or on a river nearly anywhere in the world are a lot more worried about what’s happening right now, than what might happen to future generations if we don’t limit greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., China, India and elsewhere.  Climate change means too much water or not enough water in the wrong place at the wrong time! It means deadly heat waves. It means radical changes in natural places, animal and plant life and the onset of new diseases.

Our new book, Managing Climate Risks in Coastal Communities: Readiness, Engagement and Adaptation (by Lawrence Susskind, Danya Rumore, Carri Hulet and Patrick Field) tells the story of four coastal communities trying to take climate change-related risks seriously. What they are doing — and what we have helped them learn from their efforts — can help other cities and towns fast-forward the adoption of climate risk management measures that everyone agrees on.

Here are seven important things to know about this climate change project:

1. What we did

The “we” in this story is the New England Climate Adaptation Project (NECAP), a partnership based at the MIT Science Impact Collaborative and the not-for-profit Consensus Building Institute. Our close partners included the National Estuarian Research Reserve System, the University of New Hampshire, and four New England coastal communities. We prepared four Stakeholder Assessments—one for each partner town in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine. These involved interviews with several dozen officials, activists, business leaders and scientists. The scientists on our team prepared a local climate change forecast (estimating likely temperature, precipitation and sea level changes in the near term, mid-term and long-term) using downscaled regional climate models and long-term data from local meteorological measuring stations.

We wanted to know if this approach to enhancing community readiness to address climate-related risks works.

With all this information in hand, we developed tailored role-play simulation (RPSs). These are “serious games” that ask participants to imagine that they are working in a community a lot like their own, trying to figure out what to do about possible climate risks. We organized several workshops in each of our four partner communities at which more than 100 – 150 people played the games in each place. Workshops were co-sponsored by a wide range of local environmental, business and public service organizations.  The press attended.  We used social media to generate as much interest as we could.

2. What we wanted to learn

We wanted to know if this approach to enhancing community readiness to address climate-related risks works. Does it give people a better understanding of the problems they face, the options open to them, the reasons that experts and locals think differently about what is happening and what ought to be done, and the costs of taking different actions?  Does this approach to public engagement build capacity and political momentum? Does it change anyone’s mind?  Does it legitimize the search for immediate “no regrets” actions as far as public spending is concerned?  Does it help the community see why adaptation is a local (not a state or a federal) problem?

To answer these questions, we used independent town-wide polling to establish a base line of public attitudes about climate change before and after the workshops, surveying more than 500 people. We held intensive debriefings with all participants at the end of each workshop. We interviewed almost 25% of the participants 4 – 6 weeks later to see what they remembered.  We did statistical analyses of the results across demographic groups within each community, between those who participated in workshops and those who didn’t, and then compared the four communities in the four states. We prepared detailed Case Studies summarizing what we learned in each town. In the book, we summarize all of our findings.

3. What our results were

A simple, but tailored one-hour game with a 30-minute debriefing can change minds with regard to the importance of climate change, the nature of climate risks, and the need for local action. People from almost all groups (except those so convinced that climate change is not a problem that they refused to participate) learned about the science involved, increased their sense that local governments need to act and became more optimistic that people in their community could and should act together to manage climate risks. Public officials and staff felt more empowered to take action in their respective spheres (public works, emergency response, health services, etc.) after seeing people’s hearts and minds change at the workshops.

Above all, communities must enhance their level of readiness if they expect to address climate risks.

4. What communities can do

Communities facing climate change-related risks have a few different options: they can do nothing and hope for the best. They can invest in emergency preparedness so they are better able to respond and recover from crises. They can “retreat” from the most vulnerable areas. They can try to defend themselves by building protective infrastructure and adopting new policies, such as land use regulations and building codes. They can mix and match elements of each of these strategies. Whatever they decide, they will need widespread support because it will take public and private cooperation and a continuous, not a one shot, effort to bring all but one of these options to fruition. Individual landowners, businesses, environmental activists, public agencies and taxpayer groups will have to work together.

5. What we learned

Above all, communities must enhance their level of readiness if they expect to address climate risks. They will have to provide opportunities for widespread public involvement in something other than a few “town hall” meetings at which pre-packaged information is handed out and people are lectured at. They will have to help taxpayers understand that there are “no regrets” moves they can make to reduce climate risks while simultaneously accomplishing other important objectives at the same time. For example, using this year’s open space preservation money to create natural barriers along the shore can provide storm protection for private property owners, reduce saltwater intrusion into freshwater wetlands (protecting underground water supplies), armor waste disposal and electricity infrastructure, and minimize flood risks.

6. What we took away

The sooner the U.S. shifts its focus to reducing local vulnerability to climate risks (so that everyone can see what the costs are going to be year after year as climate change accelerates), the sooner there will be more of a political constituency that wants to get at the source of the problem. So, unlike many who worry that any talk of adaptation detracts from global efforts to push for mitigation (i.e. reduction in greenhouse gases), we take just the opposite view.

Don’t wait for extensive state or federal direction — it’s probably not coming anytime soon.

We think the political pressure for mitigation is not strong enough to push for a global action plan or new US laws because people don’t recognize the costs to them today.  Now is the time to highlight what it’s going to take to help vast numbers of coastal and riverine communities all over the world avoid paying immense costs just to survive in the years ahead. When they see what it really costs to manage climate risks, we believe they will care much more about the underlying cause, and quickly become the missing constituency needed to push for global emissions reducing policies.

7. What can you do?

Get your community to play the serious games we have developed (or look for a range of local partners that will help adapt the games to your local conditions). Do a simple, anonymous assessment to understand what everyone’s real views are at present on issues of climate change (you might be surprised!).  Use our before-and-after surveys to document the shifts that occur once people start attending workshops and playing the right games.

Get local officials and community activists to be the first to play the games and talk about what the results suggest for your community. Involve the local media in reporting the story.  Adopt a consensus building approach to formulating a collective risk management plan for the community. Don’t wait for extensive state or federal direction — it’s probably not coming anytime soon. Emphasize the search for no-regret options — things you can do right away that are good for multiple reasons AND will reduce your community’s vulnerability to sudden climate change.

Managing Climate Risks in Coastal Communities: Readiness, Engagement and Adaptation is out tomorrow. Learn more about this project at This post was originally published on Professor Susskind’s blog ‘The Consensus Building Approach’.

Featured Series: Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Ninteenth Century Series titles

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series is a collection that fosters connections between areas including history, science, religion and literary theory. The general editor of this series is Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Professor of English Literature at University of Oxford. He recently spoke to us about the series, proposals and writers who deserve more recognition.

What are the aims of this series, and who is the desired audience?

Nineteenth Century LiteratureRobert Douglas-Fairhurst: The main aim of this series is to find new ways of exploring and thinking about nineteenth-century literature and culture. That’s a challenging task, and in practice it means that we try to introduce our readers to unexpected cross-sections in the period, surveys of unjustly neglected genres, and original insights into more familiar authors and topics. We don’t have an exclusively academic audience in mind. Most readers are likely to be teachers, researchers, or students, but we also hope that our books will be written in the sort of accessible style that will appeal to anyone with an interest in widening their intellectual horizons.

What are the qualities you look for in a proposal?

RDF: The proposals that excite me are those that have clearly been written by someone who is similarly excited by the ideas they want to share with a wider readership. Some proposals are too narrow, and others are impossibly broad; the ideal project is one that can be explored thoroughly (if not exhaustively) within the limits of a single book. Beyond expertise in the subject area – we receive excellent advice on this from our team of peer reviewers – the other key feature I always look for is the writer’s style. Can they communicate effectively? Is their critical prose a pleasure to read rather than a chore? Would anyone other than the writer’s immediate family and friends actually want to read their book?

What are your current research interests / current projects?

RDF: I’ve just written a book on the creation and cultural aftermath of Alice in Wonderland, The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland, published by Harvill Secker in the UK and Harvard University Press in the USA. It was featured on Start the Week and BBC Breakfast, and was a Radio 4 Book of the Week, read by Simon Russell Beale; it was also the main source for a 60-minute BBC2 documentary on ‘The Secret Life of Lewis Carroll’ on which I worked as the historical advisor. Inevitably that has involved quite a lot of publicity work – most recently I contributed an essay to the programme for Damon Albarn’s new musical – and when that has finished my next project is a critical edition of A Tale of Two Cities for Norton. After that, who knows.

What topic would you like to see the series cover?

RDF: I think the series already covers an excellent mixture of topics, from Jane Austen to sensation fiction and science. However, I am always on the lookout for further high-quality monographs on individual authors, and book proposals that focus on the detailed workings of writing itself – genre, form, style – would be especially welcome.

Who is a nineteenth-century writer deserving of more academic recognition?

RDF: Good question. One of the big movements in the past 30 or 40 years has been to recover a number of authors who had sunk into obscurity. Much of that work – such as Christopher Ricks’s edition of James Henry’s idiosyncratic Victorian poetry – has been just and admirable. The only question that occasionally lingers over it is whether all the writers necessarily deserved to be brought back to life. I suppose my hope is that in the future some of energy that has hitherto been devoted to expanding the canon might also be given to widening our understanding of authors who by contrast have suffered through sheer familiarity. Many are far stranger than we tend to think.

We welcome submissions of proposals for challenging and original works that meet the criteria of Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series. Should you wish to send in a proposal for a new series or one of the following types of works — Monographs (mid-length and full-length), Edited Collections, Handbooks, Reference, Upper-Level Textbooks, Academic Non-Fiction — please contact us at:

New Australian Studies Titles Roundup!

After the success of this month’s Global Digital Humanities conference held in Sydney, Australia, we want to highlight some of our most recent releases in the Australian Studies field. New Anthem series include Anthem Studies in Australian Literature and Anthem Studies in Australian Politics, Economics and Society. Some of the most innovative research in Australian studies is being done by scholars in fields including literature, history, new media and digital cultures, and cultural studies and indigenous studies.

9781783083978Patrick White Beyond the Grave
(15 August 2015)
Edited by Ian Henderson and Anouk Lang

Patrick White (1912–1990) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973 and remains one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. This book represents new work by an outstanding list of White scholars from around the globe. This collection of diverse and original essays is notable for its acknowledgement of White’s homosexuality in relation to the development of his literary style, in its consideration of the way his writing ‘works’ on/with readers, and for its contextualizing of his life and oeuvre in relation to London and to London life.

9781783084036Christos Tsiolkas and the Fiction of Critique: Politics, Obscenity, Celebrity
by Andrew McCann

Christos Tsiolkas is one of the most recognizable and internationally successful literary novelists working in Australia today. He is also one of the country’s most politically engaged writers. These terms – recognition, commercial success, political engagement – suggest a relationship to forms of public discourse that belies the extremely confronting nature of much of Tsiolkas’s fiction and his deliberate attempt to cultivate a literary persona oriented to notions of blasphemy, obscenity and what could broadly be called a pornographic sensibility. ‘Christos Tsiolkas and the Fiction of Critique’ traces these contradictions against Tsiolkas’s acute sense of the waning of working-class identity, and reads his work as a sustained examination of the ways in which literature might express an opposition to capitalist modernity.

9781783084012Performing Non-Citizenship: Asylum Seekers in Australian Theatre, Film and Activism
by Emma Cox

This exacting study examines the theatre, film and activism engaged with the representation or participation of asylum seekers and refugees in the twenty-first century. Cox shows how this work has been informed by and indeed contributed to the consolidation of ‘irregular’ noncitizenship as a cornerstone idea in contemporary Australian political and social life, to the extent that it has become impossible to imagine what Australia means without it.

9781783082315_1_1Inside Australia Culture
by Baden Offord, Erika Kerruish, Rob Garbutt, Adele Wessell and Kirsten Pavlovic

‘Inside Australian Culture: Legacies of Enlightenment Values’ offers a critical intervention into the continuing effects of colonization in Australia and the structures it brought, which still inform and dominate its public culture. Through a careful analysis of three disparate but significant moments in Australian history, the authors investigate the way the British Enlightenment continues to dominate contemporary Australian thinking and values. Employing the lens of Indian cultural theorist Ashis Nandy, the authors argue for an Australian public culture that is profoundly conscious of its assumptions, history and limitations.

Christos Tsoilkas and ‘Writing for the World’

9781783084036_cov.inddChristos Tsiolkas is one of the most recognizable and internationally successful literary novelists working in Australia today. He is also one of the country’s most politically engaged writers. We recently published Christos and the Fiction of Critique: Politics, Obscenity, Celebrity which offering highly innovative readings and a critical analysis of the writer’s literary success. In the preface to the monograph, author Andrew McCann discusses the difficulty of getting international audiences interested in Australian literature.

According to Tom Shone, Christos Tsiolkas was “plucked from semi-obscurity and set on the literary rock-star track by his fourth novel, The Slap.” This fairly innocuous comment appeared near the opening of a Sunday Times article that Shone had based on an interview with Tsiolkas, conducted in New York in 2010. The setting is important. Shone and Tsiolkas are on the roof deck of the “quirky” and “boutique” Roger Smith Hotel on Lexington Avenue. Tsiolkas is apparently awed by the Manhattan skyline. He is also fiddling with his cell phone and juggling other commitments in a way befitting for someone in the middle of an American book tour.


The idea of plucking Tsiolkas from “semiobscurity” might have made sense to a British or North American readership, but to anyone who had paid even fleeting attention to the Australian literary scene over the preceding fifteen years, during which time Tsiolkas’s fiction had become a staple of critical discussion, it was likely to be jarring. Nevertheless, the comment did highlight one of the most salient aspects of Tsiolkas’s career: even after the enormous Australian interest generated by his 2005 novel Dead Europe, he had a very limited international profile. In the divide between the local and the global—between the apparently insular Australian market and the market per se—The Slap seemed to appear ex nihilo, and Tsiolkas himself was somehow disembodied and decontextualized in a way that would have been unthinkable to anyone familiar with the political vehemence and visceral extremism of his earlier work.

Scholars are professionally rewarded for working in established, and well trafficked, areas of predominantly British and American literature where relatively large academic constituencies facilitate citation and circulation.

I am dwelling on Shone’s article because it was at the moment I read it that I decided I wanted to write a monograph about Christos Tsiolkas. I had already experienced the difficulty of getting literary and academic communities outside of Australia interested in Australian writers. When I began working in the United States about a decade ago, some of my American colleagues had never heard of Peter Carey. And some had never heard of Patrick White. Confronting this merely reminds one that Australia is still, culturally speaking, a relatively small part of a global, Anglophone formation. From the perspective of the northern hemisphere, its literature tends to be either opaque or invisible. The dynamics of the field of literary studies have not helped. Scholars are professionally rewarded for working in established, and well trafficked, areas of predominantly British and American literature where relatively large academic constituencies facilitate citation and circulation.

At the same time notions of cultural capital in the American liberal arts still orient to traditionally defined periods and the canonical texts that constitute them. Yet as Tsiolkas worked his way along the east coast of the United States, he seemed to be gaining a level of exposure that produced both visibility and a certain kind of legibility. People had heard him interviewed on National Public Radio. He seemed to be topical, and topicality, of course, is one of the things that a critic looks for as a way of justifying a project. But related to this was the feeling that his celebrity was raising some genuinely pressing questions about the fate of radical writing in the era of global capitalism. “I had no idea [The Slap] was going to take me to Lexington Avenue,” Tsiolkas tells Shone. theslap_704“Trying to stand back, I’m interested in why it has proved so popular. I wonder what it says about contemporary writing—can you be popular without being populist?” [1] The composure of the self-questioning in this comment is quite different from the way in which Tsiolkas was speaking about global circulation earlier in his career.

“Writing for the world is exciting, tempting, but I think it is an imperialist dream. There are people who can’t read, people who don’t much want to read, there are people who read in different ways to me.”

A passage from the 1996 Jump Cuts, a series of dialogues with Sasha Soldatow that forms a sort of joint autobiography, seems to question exactly the sort of success Tsiolkas was now experiencing: “Writing for the world is exciting, tempting, but I think it is an imperialist dream. There are people who can’t read, people who don’t much want to read, there are people who read in different ways to me.” [2] The comment echoes one he made at the Melbourne Writers Festival in 1995. Partly reflecting on the distance between his work and the milieu of his Greek-speaking parents, he said,

I do not believe there is a writing that speaks to everyone. I write in English, and my parents cannot read my work. And even if they could, my work is dependent on the cultural practices of queer, of experimental writing, of a popular culture and music which makes little attempt to speak to them. [3]

Of course, coming up with an international bestseller is not “writing for the world,” or producing “writing that speaks to everyone,” but one still cannot help sensing a certain tension between the Sunday Times’s vision of Tsiolkas gazing over the New York skyline, realizing his arrival at the heart of global capitalism, and this earlier distance from a globalizing ambition that seems sufficiently implicit in the act of writing that one might want to disavow it. If there is a tension here—and perhaps there is only the semblance of a tension—it is one that occurs outside the ambit of authorial control or agency.

[1] Shone, “Novel of the Year? Get Ready for The Slap,” 11.

[2] Sasha Soldatow and Christos Tsiolkas, Jump Cuts: An Autobiography (Milsons Point, NSW:Random House, 1996), 282.

[3] Quoted in Ian Syson, “Smells Like Market Spirit: Grunge, Literature, Australia,” Overland 142 (Autumn 1996): 22.

New Book Spotlight: “A Guide to Trade Credit Insurance”

We recently published A Guide to Trade Credit Insurance as part of our Finance and Banking publishing programme. This release comes on the heels of a forthcoming series on alternative asset investing and a major book project on business modelling.

A Guide to Trade Credit Insurance is a compact volume presents an approachable but detailed guide written by industry experts from an international perspective. Topics they address include the credit process from the initial application sage to the expiration phase of the policy. The book offers practical information on the history of trade, the need for protection against trade credit risks, and a short term credit focus.


Anthem Press Prize at the 2015 Global Digital Humanities Conference

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 1.27.27 PM

From 29 June-3 July 2015, the University of Western Sydney will host the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations’ (ADHO) annual conference. This year in Sydney marks the first occasion the 26-year-old conference will not take place in Europe or North America. Times Higher Education has named the University of Western Sydney one of the best universities under the age of 50, and the university is home to Australia’s inaugural chair in Digital Humanities.

Keynote speakers at Global Digital Humanities 2015 are Genevieve Bell, vice president and fellow at Intel, Jeffrey T. Schnapps, cultural historian and faculty at Harvard University, and Tim Sherratt, a digital historian and cultural data hacker who manages Trove at the National Library of Australia.

At the conference, the Anthem Press Prize will be awarded to the best poster as judged by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations Award Committee. The prize will be announced during the closing ceremonies. We will also be displaying featured titles.

The Anthem Scholarship in the Digital Age series investigates the global impact of technology and computing on knowledge and society. Tracing transformations in communication, learning and research, the groundbreaking titles in this series demonstrate the far-reaching effects of the digital revolution across disciplines, cultures and languages.

Recent titles in Anthem’s digital age series include Belinda Barnet’s Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext, Katherine Bode’s Reading by Numbers: Recalibrating the Literary Field, and Michael Bhaskar’s The Content Machine: Towards a Theory of Publishing from the Printing Press to the Digital Network.